What is fatigue?
Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. In a work context, fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.
It can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.
Fatigue can be caused by factors which may be work related, non-work related or a combination of both and can accumulate over time.
Why is fatigue a problem?
Fatigue can adversely affect safety at the workplace. Fatigue reduces alertness which may lead to errors and an increase in incidents and injuries, particularly when:
· Operating fixed or mobile plant, including driving vehicles
· Undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
· Undertaking night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping.
The effects of fatigue can be short or long term.
The longer term health effects of fatigue can include:
· Heart disease
· High blood pressure
· Gastrointestinal disorders
· Lower fertility
How can you tell if someone is fatigued?
The following signs or symptoms may indicate a worker is fatigued:
· excessive yawning or falling asleep at work
· short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
· noticeably reduced capacity to engage in effective interpersonal communication
· impaired decision-making and judgment
· reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
· other changes in behaviour, for example repeatedly arriving late for work
· increased rates of unplanned absence.
A fatigued worker may also experience symptoms not obvious to others including:
· feeling drowsy
· difficulty concentrating
· blurred vision or impaired visual perception
· a need for extended sleep during days off work.
Workers and their health and safety representatives (if any) must be consulted, so far as is reasonably practicable when:
· planning and designing work schedules and rosters
· making decisions on how to manage the risks of fatigue
· proposing changes to working hours, work schedules and procedures
· making decisions about providing information and training on fatigue
· after an incident or ‘near miss’ where fatigue was a factor.
CONSULTING, CO-OPERATING AND CO-ORDINATING ACTIVITIES WITH OTHER DUTY HOLDERS
WORKERS AT HIGH RISK OF FATIGUE
Some workers are at a higher risk of fatigue because their work typically involves some or all of the factors which contribute to fatigue, for example:
· shift workers
· night workers
· fly-in, fly-out workers (FIFO)
· drive in, drive out (DIDO)
· seasonal workers
· on-call and call-back workers
· emergency service workers
· medical professionals and other health workers.
SAFETY CRITICAL TASKS
It is particularly important to identify fatigue risks which might arise when safety critical tasks are being carried out. Safety critical tasks are those where the consequences of a mistake or error in judgment could cause serious injury, for example:
· driving a road vehicle, such as a taxi or courier van, or operating a crane or other high risk plant working at heights
· participating in medical or surgical procedures and settings
· working with flammable or explosive substances
· other types of work identified as hazardous, for example electrical work.
Factors that may contribute to and increase the risk of fatigue
The first step in the risk management process is to identify all reasonably foreseeable factors which could contribute to and increase the risk of fatigue. There may not be obvious signs of fatigue at the workplace but this does not mean it is not occurring or factors which may increase the risk of fatigue are not present.
Fatigue is often caused by a number of inter-related factors which can be cumulative. The major factors contributing to and increasing the risk of fatigue involve:
WORK SCHEDULES – SHIFT WORK, NIGHT WORK, HOURS OF WORK, BREAKS
Work schedules which limit the time workers can physically and mentally recover from work may cause fatigue, for example early shift start times or late finishes, short breaks between shifts, shifts lengthened by overtime or double shifts and not enough non-sleep rest breaks during a shift.
Some types of work, for example concentrating for extended periods of time, performing repetitious or monotonous work and performing work requiring continued physical effort can increase the risk of fatigue.
SLEEP – LENGTH OF SLEEP TIME, QUALITY OF SLEEP AND TIME SINCE SLEEP
While tired muscles can recover with rest, the brain can only recover with sleep. The most beneficial sleep is deep undisturbed sleep taken in a single continuous period.
The optimum amount of sleep varies for each person, however, an adult generally requires seven to eight hours of sleep daily.
Working in harsh and uncomfortable conditions can contribute to fatigue, for example, exposure to heat, cold, vibration or noisy workplaces can make workers tire quicker and impair performance.
NON-WORK RELATED FACTORS
Factors occurring outside of work may also contribute to fatigue. A worker’s lifestyle, family responsibilities, health (e.g. insomnia, sleep apnoea, some medication), other work commitments, and extended travel between work and home may all increase the risk of fatigue.
Assessing the risks
A risk assessment can assist in finding out:
· where, which and how many workers (including contractors and subcontractors) are likely to be at risk of becoming fatigued
· how often fatigue is likely to occur
· the degree of harm which may result from fatigue
· whether existing control measures are effective
· what action should be taken to control the risk of fatigue
· how urgently action to control the risk needs to be taken.
When assessing risks, contributors to fatigue should not be considered in isolation. For example, job demands, hours of work and environmental conditions may all increase the risk of fatigue in the workplace. The risks of injury from fatigue may increase if workers work long daily hours in a physically or mentally demanding job. This risk of fatigue may increase when new workers begin their job and are adjusting to work demands.
It is not necessary to conduct a risk assessment in all circumstances.
Information, instruction, training and supervision
Providing information and training to workers about the factors that can contribute to fatigue and the risks associated with it will help them to not only do their job but also implement control measures to minimise the risk of fatigue in the workplace.
Training about fatigue and relevant workplace policies should be arranged so it is available to all workers on all shifts. Information and training for workers should include:
· the work health and safety responsibilities of everyone in the workplace
· the factors that can contribute to fatigue and risks that may be associated with it
· symptoms of fatigue
· the body clock and how fatigue can affect it
· effective control measures for fatigue, for example work scheduling
· procedures for reporting fatigue
· effects of medication, drugs and alcohol
· nutrition, fitness and health issues relating to fatigue
· balancing work and personal demands.
MANAGERS AND SUPERVISORS
Managers and supervisors should be trained to:
· recognise fatigue
· understand how fatigue can be managed and how to implement control measures, including how to design suitable rosters and work schedules in consultation with workers,
· take appropriate action when a worker is displaying fatigue related impairment.
An appropriate level of supervision should be provided (for example a higher level of supervision for safety critical tasks), which may include monitoring work to ensure safe work practices are followed.
THIS SHORT GUIDELINES PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR PERSONS UNDERTAKING ON HOW TO MANAGE FATIGUE AT WORK